Monday, February 13, 2006

dogs like you?

On the eve of the Westminster dog show, the dog world's fashion week, the New York Times has run an editorial "dogs like us" that is skeptical that selective dog breeding is something to be celebrated:

In the case of dog shows, a given breed's parent club sets the standard for the breed's look or style. These standards describe an ideal specimen and are supposed to relate a dog's form to the original function it performed. But given that dogs are the most plastic of species, and people are inventive, some remarkable varieties of dogs have been created to serve our notions of beauty, novelty, companionship and service.

Unfortunately, in some breeds, form has trumped function. The Pekingese and the bulldog, whose flattened faces make breathing difficult, are two examples. Such design flaws — often perpetuated by breeders trying to produce a dog with a unique look — have enduring consequences for individual dogs, their progeny and the people who love them.

Of the 180 breeds listed on one popular Web site for choosing purebred puppies, 42 percent have chronic health problems: skin diseases, stomach disorders, a high incidence of cancers, the inability to bear young without Caesareans, shortened life spans. The list is as disturbing as it is long, and poses a question: dazzled by the uniqueness of many of the breeds we've created, have we — the dog-owning public — turned a blind eye to the development of a host of dysfunctional animals?

as nature's most nearly perfect mutt i'm sympathetic to the argument that human tampering has sometimes been beneficial and often has been fueled by vanity, with bad results for man and beast. today dog shows often include components of function as well as form--agility, herding, and my favorite, jumping dogs (i do love flying labs). but these are often restricted to "purebred" dogs, too. i'll never be a show dog, or an agility dog, or even a good herder (of naked apes, maybe) because there's no competition for what i do best, what we canines are really for, being your buddies. see, i probably deserve one of those "championship" cups for being a great entertainer--my bit involving the catching and eating of snowballs is priceless--but i'll take a belly rub of gratitude. the mark of you naked apes is all over us dogs, and especially in your projection of competition. see, we canines compete for important stuff like food, attention, snowballs and the like. you humans have bred into yourselves competition for weird things like silver cups, money, and the accolades of your fellow naked apes (which, unless it comes with a belly rub--what's the point)? competition overrated. mutts underrated.


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